Above: Outline map (red line) of the City of Westminster from Google maps. Before 1965 the land consisted of three Metropolitan Boroughs – Westminster (also known as the ‘City of Westminster’), Paddington and St Marylebone.
The Know Your London course for Inner London extends over six years. During this academic year (from September 2016 to July 2017) one of the topics is the northernmost parts of what would normally be called the ‘London Borough of Westminster’. Because of its City status, the correct name of this London Borough is the City of Westminster.
Most of the important factors relating to the name ‘Westminster’ were covered in a blog entitled ‘The Three Westminster Names’ (13 January 2016). Over a time period of more than one and half millennia the name has actually had five main uses:
(1) The name came into being when it was used to describe a religious house near the Thames – which has become Westminster Abbey. It all started around the 8th century with a much small church where monks decided to settle. Being west of the City of London it was referred to as the ‘West Minster’ – the second word deriving from the Germanic word ‘Münster’ which is still in use in their language for a religious house.
(2) The abbey church became in charge of a very large piece of land, called the Manor of Westminster. Its boundary, described in AD 959, was bounded by the River Tyburn, on the west side; the River Fleet, on the east side; the River Thames, on the south side; and what is now the line of Holborn and Oxford Street to the north. It will be seen that this original manor boundary included land around today’s Fleet Street (which is now, of course, in the City of London).
(3) From Norman times onwards, the name Westminster came to mean the area of streets and houses around Westminster Abbey, even extending east to include the Strand.
(4) In 1899, with the passing of the Metropolitan Boroughs Act, a Metropolitan Borough of Westminster was defined – including all the land of today’s boundary but only as far north as the line of Oxford Street and Bayswater Road. Again, because of its City status, the borough was known as the City of Westminster’. North of Oxford Street was the Metropolitan Borough of St Marylebone. North of Bayswater Road was the Metropolitan Borough of Paddington.
(5) In 1965 the three Metropolitan Boroughs just mentioned were combined to form a new London Borough. As has already been explained at the start of this blog, that is called the City of Westminster.
With the above introduction completed, it should be mentioned that this author prefers to describe the history of London according to the Metropolitan Boroughs. They are smaller units of land than the London Boroughs and they relate far better to the individual histories of areas within London. This year we shall be setting out the history of Paddington and St Marylebone. Both have long histories in their own right. The fact that it is only since 1965 that they have come under the administration of the City of Westminster makes little difference to their long and fascinating history.